A couple of weeks ago Hope Lies at 24 Frames Per Second had the opportunity to speak with Mark Kermode on the eve of the release of his latest book, The Good, The Bad & The Multiplex. Subtitled ‘What’s Wrong With Modern Movies’, the book itself is a wry look at several areas of the modern cinema experience, covering areas as diverse as the role of the critic in the 21st century, and the perils of online cinema ticket booking. The book itself is a genuinely great read, and comes very much recommended.
Anyway, here’s the first part of our interview, in which we discussed the book itself, and the general state of cinema culture in the UK at the moment. Part 2, which will be up later in the week, is more of a general conversation piece, in which the good Doctor and I essentially just threw ideas around about a couple of films that we share a love of. The tone of the whole thing was very casual, so much so that even referring to it as an “interview” feels a little inappropriate.
Mark Kermode – Oh really?! You know there is an audiobook available. So with your dyslexia, what does that effect exactly?
Concentration. With me its my concentration.
But you’ve managed to finish it alright?
Yeah seriously, it’s a major accomplishment. For the book.
Thank you, that’s a real compliment, and thank you for sticking at it.
I’m afraid the book might have taught me a couple of bad habits. I’m now intimately aware of how you personally approach the whole PR circus from the perspective of a journalist, so how does it feel to be on the other side of a PR campaign?
Well. One of the things that I talk about in the book, and there’s a whole chapter on it, ‘What Are Critics For?’, and its interesting, I had a couple of lovely tweets from people who are critics saying “I really like that chapter”, and theres a very stinky review in a newspaper today that says that that chapter is all over the place, and that my inability to distinguish between analysis and opinion is “frankly alarming”! And I want that on the cover of the book! I want “HIS INABILITY TO DISTINGUISH BETWEEN OPINION AND ANALYSIS IS FRANKLY ALARMING” because in a way what I said in that chapter was that everything is subjective as far as your critical response is, although there are things that are objective which is to do with factual textualisation, correct description of the movie, the kind of things that when theyre done properly, given in a review by Kim Newman or Nigel Floyd, or those people that I really admire. But what I said in the end was is that all criticism is part of the industry and regardless of the view that some people have that bad reviews can kill movies, which is just demonstrably not true. I mean look at the amount of money that Pearl Harbour took and then show me the reviews that add up to that amount. So what I was saying at the time was that somebody like Kevin Smith, who’s a much better filmmaker than a film like Cop Out would lead you to believe, when he starts complaining that critics are having a go at his films and that its all unfair its like no, its all part of the industry in which you work!
We critics like to believe that we’re separate from it, but we’re not. Film criticism is part of the film industry. In the end, what I think most film companies understand is that what film criticism does best is raise the profile of their film. Good or bad. An apt example would be that negative review of the book in today’s paper, while I wish it was more incisive, but do I think its going to effect sales of the book? No. Actually, somebody might read it and want to check it out regardless, in the end people decide for themselves, and if you start complaining that somehow criticism is damaging sales then you’re talking baloney. And if you start believing that your criticism effects sales then your living in cloud cuckoo land!
It’s logical really, I mean, just as a writer on film I tend to avoid spending too much time writing about the things I dislike.
Completely. In the book I talk about when I was reviewing Sex & The City 2. If my aim in reviewing Sex & The City 2 was to lessen the films box office I would have just said “it’s a bit boring. Anyway, moving on…” but what I actually did was, having said I’m not gonna have a rant about it, I ended up going off on one about the film for ten minutes. Some people have actually said this to me, that having heard me go on about it so much they feel as though they just have to see it!
I can see how you couldn’t resist the temptation. Transformers: Dark Of The Moon for example, left me so angry that I wound up spending a day venting my frustration in a couple of thousand words.
I felt the same way, I was genuinely angry.
I was on the receiving end of some pretty harsh hate mail over my piece actually. And I was recently voted the worst Transformers 3 reviewer by TFW2005, an online Transformers forum, beating yourself actually…
Fantastic. The thing you have to remember is that if you’re doing this job and you haven’t been called an “elitist” or “out of touch” and all the rest of it then you’re not doing your job properly.
I guess the opposite to the multiplex experience is community cinema. Which is something that’s undergoing something of a renaissance at the moment. What sort of involvement do you have with things like that?
Yes, well, I curate the Shetland Film Festival with my wife, Linda Ruth Williams, and the New Forest Film Festival is next week, in which we show a selection of movies, always including a silent movie which we play live musical accompaniment to and local historical films. Basically our programme is based on films that we think people will want to see, films that perhaps they wouldn’t have come across under other circumstances and I think that that’s very, very important. As far as arthouse cinemas are concerned, I am very much of the opinion that an arthouse cinema or an independent cinema should be like a community centre. It should be every bit as much a part of the community as the village green or the church. The ideal scenario is that you have a cinema that people can go and see movies and then sit somewhere afterwards and have a cup of coffee and talk about what they’ve seen. That, to me, is what cinema culture is all about.
I think a cinema should also be in touch with the local community, asking questions like “What do you want to see?”, “What are we doing that’s right?”, “What are we doing that’s wrong?”, that I think is crucial to cinema.
When I was a kid, the multiplex excited me. I felt like I was in an episode of Saved By The Bell, or in a Cameron Crowe movie. It felt like a real slice of Americana. Did you ever go through that excited phase?
Of course, of course, and as I try to say in the book, the problem is not multiplexes per se, the problem is badly run multiplexes. My argument isn’t against multiplexes as a whole, in the same way that it isn’t against digital projection as a whole, it is against the abnegation of responsibility that the rise of multiplexes and the rise of digital has allowed. Just because you’re projecting from digital doesn’t mean that you don’t need a projectionist. Just because you’re a multiplex doesn’t mean you don’t need ushers. You can run a multiplex cinema so long as you run it as a cinema. As I keep saying, if you’re in a great big building that doesn’t have a projectionist but does have a confectionary stand what makes that a cinema? Thats not a cinema that a sweet shop with videos.
The Good, The Bad & The Multiplex is available from all good bookshops now.